How does a food writer become a chef? “I wrote for StarChefs for three years almost, in New York,” J. J. Proville told me. “So when I switched to actually working in restaurants—that was my education. Michael Anthony [executive chef of New York’s Gramercy Tavern] has this ability to hire people he thinks can contribute something, even if they haven’t worked in restaurants before. And I was interested in food at a pretty intense level. I’d also met a lot of chefs and seen the food scene around the country. I was enthused and motivated. Mike Anthony is one of the most important chefs in New York City right now. I wanted to get in there.”
Proville picked up a lot from Anthony, primarily his subtle hand with flavors, then worked around Brooklyn. A 2012 trip to Seattle brought him in contact with chef Mike Easton, after which Proville headed back to New York and into the eye of Hurricane Sandy. “Sandy floods my apartment, ruins the neighborhood, and I had to move,” he says. “I was sick of the grit and brutality of New York. I decided to start over in Seattle.”
So he moved—here’s the magic part—ending up right next door to Easton, who was just getting ready to open his Pioneer Square pasta restaurant, Il Corvo. “There was a line out the door on Day One,” Proville recalls. “I was there almost three years.” It was here that we awarded Proville the coveted Next Hot Chef status in 2014, and here that the lunch-only format allowed Proville evenings for his own projects, including touring spaces for the restaurant that was beginning to take shape in his dreams. And staging private supperclubs, which he did for a time under the name The 95 Yesler Supperclub, in Pioneer Square. “The first one we did, Linda Derschang was there with a friend,” he recalls. “A pipe burst so all the guests had to use the bathroom down the street at the Best Western. It was a very Bohemian New York experience.”
Only when Proville’s friend and former StarChef’s colleague Zac Overman move to town did L’Oursin really start coming into focus—their French collaboration in the Central District, which opened last year. Find out more about the place in this month's Seattle Met review.